In salvaging a draw from the fourth Test yesterday, England were confronted with a bitter truth. They came to the West Indies barely a month ago expecting and expected to win the series at a canter.
That estimation needed a readjustment at the first time of asking and by the time the teams shook hands on a high-scoring stalemate last night it had undergone a seismic shift. If the pitch at the Kensington Oval had the final word, as it had in Antigua last week, England again discovered that their opponents were both tough and relentless.
The tourists have not played well enough to win. They have not played well enough to win all winter. They have not played well enough to win a match in which the series was still alive since early last summer at home when the opponents, New Zealand, could hardly have been more obliging. That was nine proper matches ago.
There was one corner turned as England reached 279 for 2 in 81 overs yesterday. Alastair Cook scored his first Test hundred for 15 months, 16 matches and 28 innings. In doing so a huge weight, made up of a goodly proportion of the simian population, was removed from his shoulders. When he reached 97, Cook became the youngest England player, at 24 years and 67 days, to have reached 3,000 Test runs, a year and 172 days ahead of David Gower. They are both left-handers in the sense that William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie were both writers, but proficiency comes in many guises. Cook, England's vice-captain, has passed 50 four times in a row on this tour, eight times in his last 12 innings, and that is a mark of consistency which can make small beer of technical defects.
The pitch was hopeless to the end. In the course of five days of cricket, 1,628 runs were scored in 429 overs for the loss of 17 wickets. Perhaps the bowling on either side was neither as fearsome nor as effective as it could have been, but it was nowhere near terrible (and you would not want to face Fidel Edwards on a fast track).
Andrew Strauss, England's captain who was one of the two wickets to fall yesterday, was making no excuses. "Winning this series was a big goal for us," he said. "I don't think we have any real excuses. It would be nice to be on level terms but the way we played in Jamaica wasn't good enough and that's why we are where we are."
That afternoon in Kingston when they were bowled out for 51 will continue to haunt England. They might have come back in Antigua but the manner in which they have failed to take 20 wickets all winter – and before that – made it paramount for them to avoid even one dreadful session.
Although Chris Gayle, the West Indies captain, denied that they had asked for flat surfaces to protect their 1-0 lead, these have undoubtedly worked in their favour. He said: "I don't want to give England any tips but they might want to play an extra bowler." But if England's quartet lacked potency overall, the truth is that five or 25 bowlers might have struggled to make an impact on the surface.
For the sake of Test cricket, and certainly for the sake of England, the pitch in Trinidad needs to have a better balance. Great bowlers might, just might, be able to operate on bland surfaces but there are not many of those around.
Strauss said: "The wicket remained incredibly flat throughout the game and it was probably flatter today than at any other time. As cricketers you want to see pitches deteriorating as the game goes on. You have had eight, nine, 10 bowlers bowling on it and nobody looked particularly threatening on it. I wouldn't blame the quality of the bowling by any means.
"I don't know how groundsmen prepare grounds but I suppose there's a will on the part of administrators for Test matches to go five days and the incentive is there for the groundsman to be a little more conservative. As a group of players, we want wickets that are fair and I suppose that's a difficult balance for a groundsman to come to but those are the wickets that produce the best cricket."
Cook spent 10 balls on 99 yesterday and was out of the blocks three times before being sent back by Kevin Pietersen. There seemed a prospect that he might muck it up again as he did in the first innings, but eventually he clipped his 193rd ball through midwicket and scampered three.
After their captain departed, England also lost Owais Shah leg-before and there is no question that England's new No 3 could do with a score in the next match, otherwise he could find himself as England's old No 3.
West Indies did not, in truth, try to force the issue yesterday. It was thought Edwards might bowl like the wind and force England on to the back foot but he was in trouble with running on the pitch from early in the day.
Before the series, received opinion – and you could not get an argument from any West Indians – was unanimous: England would win at least two of the matches and an improving West Indies might, just, snatch one with luck and a fair wind. It is England who need those commodities now.
Shot of the day
The clip off his legs for three which brought Alastair Cook to his first Test hundred for 28 innings. The relief in his face was visible. Everybody had told him it would come, but he was beginning to doubt it.
Ball of the day
Chris Gayle pushed one through to defeat Andrew Strauss' back foot forcing shot. Strauss may have been secretly relieved that it was neither Taylor nor Edwards who had got him.
Ball of the day
A huge audience formed outside the women's toilet in the press box after the user was locked inside. Crowbar and mallet eventually did the trick after long minutes and out stepped a chap in a sponsor's shirt.
Kensington Oval: Scoreboard
England – First Innings 600-6 dec
West Indies – First Innings (Sunday)
D S Smith lbw b Swann (referral)......... 55
158 min, 103 balls, 8 fours
*C H Gayle lbw b Anderson (referral)......... 6
22 min, 16 balls, 1 four
R R Sarwan b Sidebottom......... 291
699 min, 452 balls, 30 fours, 2 sixes
R O Hinds lbw b Swann......... 15
54 min, 46 balls, 2 fours
S Chanderpaul lbw b Anderson (referral)......... 70
156 min, 134 balls, 11 fours
B P Nash lbw b Swann (referral)......... 33
59 min, 43 balls, 5 fours, 1 six
†D Ramdin b Swann......... 166
425 min, 268 balls, 20 fours
J E Taylor b Swann......... 53
74 min, 62 balls, 6 fours, 3 sixes
S J Benn c Ambrose b Anderson......... 14
21 min, 20 balls, 2 fours
D B Powell not out......... 13
36 min, 30 balls
Extras (b15, lb11, w1, nb6, pens0)......... 33
Total (for 9 dec; 856 min, 194.4 overs)......... 749
Fall: 1-13 (Gayle), 2-121 (Smith), 3-159 (Hinds), 4-281 (Chanderpaul), 5-334 (Nash), 6-595 (Sarwan), 7-672 (Taylor), 8-701 (Benn), 9-749 (Ramdin).
Did not bat: F H Edwards.
Bowling: Anderson 37-9-125-3; Sidebottom 35-4-146-1; Broad 32-4-113-0 (w1); Swann 50.4-8-165-5; Pietersen 9-1-38-0; Bopara 13-0-66-0 (nb4); Collingwood 16-1-51-0; Shah 2-0-19-0 (nb2) (one spell).
England – Second innings
*A J Strauss b Gayle......... 38
103 min, 72 balls, 5 fours
A N Cook not out......... 139
297 min, 256 balls, 15 fours
O A Shah lbw b Benn......... 21
41 min, 45 balls, 2 fours
K P Pietersen not out......... 72
151 min, 116 balls, 7 fours, 1 six
Extras (b6, lb0, w0, nb3, pens0)......... 9
Total (for 2 dec, 297 min, 81 overs)......... 279
Fall: 1-88 (Strauss), 2-129 (Shah).
Did not bat: P D Collingwood, R S Bopara, †T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, G P Swann, R J Sidebottom, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Edwards 10-1-41-0 (nb3) (7-1-30-0 3-0-11-0), Powell 12-0-35-0 (5-0-20-0 7-0-15-0), Benn 21-1-64-1 (19-1-55-1 2-0-9-0), Taylor 4-0-15-0 (one spell), Gayle 17-5-46-1 (12-4-26-1 5-1-20-0), Hinds 14-1-56-0, Sarwan 3-0-16-0 (one spell each).
Progress: Fourth day: close 6-0 (Strauss 5, Cook 0) 2 overs. Fifth day: 50: 55 min, 11 overs. 100: 116 min, 26.2 overs. Lunch 115-1 (Cook 58, Shah 13) 32 overs. 150: 176 min, 47.4 overs. 200: 219 min, 61 overs. Tea 233-2 (Cook 117, Pietersen 50) 68 overs. 250: 274 min, 75 overs. Cook's 50: 124 min, 86 balls, 8 fours. 100: 221 min, 193 balls, 11 fours. Pietersen's 50: 100 min, 74 balls, 5 fours, 1 six.Reuse content